OIS helps international students find a home away from home

Image courtesy of Yaksha Gummadapu ’26.

On the morning of Aug. 18, 2022, members of the Office of International Services (OIS) put on their brightest smiles and rallied to meet a group of jetlagged, excited and apprehensive overseas and international students who would soon call Vassar home. Arriving before most of the student body, these students participated in a four-day pre-orientation program filled with everything from standard icebreakers to conversations about identity and culture at college.

“We want international students to be bowled over with love and joy and welcome,” Director of the Office of International Services Andrew Meade replied, smiling, when I enquired about the end goal for pre-orientation. This sentiment was at the heart of the program from the start. The program had humble but well-intentioned beginnings way back when it started in the fall of 2005, sending shuttles to the John F. Kennedy International Airport to greet students arriving from overseas. 

Meade believes that International Students need to focus on belonging first and integrating second. “If you focus too much on integrating with the host, you lose a sense of identity,” he concluded. This is exactly what OIS strives to avoid. Being yourself is the greatest contribution you can make to the Vassar community. That includes where you come from, what language you speak and any other detail that is integral to you. 

It’s clear that OIS creates a home away from home. Joshua Jatenu ’26, a fellow first-year, went through the pre-orientation program with me and now works as an intern for OIS. “How we were treated during the orientation was a huge factor. I knew I was going to work on campus and get money, but I didn’t know there was such a good opportunity at the Office of International Services,” he explained.

“Andrew hosts a lot of events with family vibes. He hosts Thanksgiving dinner at his house where all the international students are invited,” fellow OIS intern Summer Wu ’25 shared. Having a place of your own to celebrate when your peers are away is a kindness that  international students can truly appreciate–– a kindness that no other office on campus can replicate.   

Wu reflected on her first few days on campus and called the international pre-orientation her comfort zone, whereas she viewed the freshman orientation week that followed as stepping out of her comfort zone. Aria Wang ’25, another intern at OIS, laughed and bashfully agreed. “I don’t remember the details about first-year orientation, only the international orientation.” This rings true to my own experience as well. 

The four days of pre-orientation built a close-knit group and provided many opportunities to bond and make friends. First-year orientation, though warm and welcoming, could be overwhelming and fast-paced at times.  

As sophomores, Wu and Wang still feel like the international community is their home and safe space. Jatenu hopes that, as an intern, he can continue to capture the attention of other international students and remind them of the family they have here. These sentiments are a testament to the success and necessity of the international pre-orientation program. 

“A lot of what we do is creating community and belonging. It’s a gift to be able to be doing work that is a lot about that,” Meade explained when I asked him why he claims to have the best job on campus. Only a few weeks into my time here at Vassar and my closest friends are those I made sitting in the CCMPR near the OIS offices, so it’s safe to say I agree. 

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